Steelers police locker room themselves
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It's easy to say Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson is a jerk, has been a jerk since he left Penn State and always will be a jerk. Who will argue with that? Johnson was suspended again this week for twice using a gay slur. Last season, he was benched for three games and suspended for another one after he was accused of throwing a drink on a woman and pushing another in separate incidents for which he pleaded guilty to two counts of disturbing the peace and was given two years of probation. Those were not his first problems with women.
This is a bad guy.
"It's not how he was raised," Johnson's father, Larry Sr., told the Kansas City Star this week. The elder Johnson coaches the defensive linemen at Penn State and is in his 14th season on Joe Paterno's staff.
Even worse from a team standpoint than the reprehensible slurs, the younger Johnson ridiculed Chiefs first-year coach Todd Haley this week on his Twitter account. You would think Johnson would look in the mirror and realize he has had a big part in the team's 1-6 record, rushing for averages of just 51 yards per game and 2.7 yards per carry. But, no. Johnson questioned Haley's coaching credentials. There's a good chance he won't play again for the Chiefs -- certainly not beyond this season -- despite the five-year contract extension he signed in 2007 that guarantees him $19 million and could be worth up to $45 million.
Aren't you glad the Steelers don't seem to have these kinds of problems?
Yes, they have players who occasionally make dumb decisions off the field. James Harrison, Santonio Holmes, Jeff Reed and Matt Spaeth come to mind. Unfortunately, when you have 53 young men together, there are going to be incidents from time to time. That's not to condone them. That's just a fact.
What the Steelers don't seem to ever have, though, is turmoil in their locker room. You don't hear about their players being late repeatedly for team meetings and practices, as Johnson has been. You don't read about them publicly criticizing their coach as Johnson did and as Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards did with the Cleveland Browns before they were traded. You don't hear about them disrespecting their assistant coaches as the Cincinnati Bengals' Chad Johnson or Chad Ochocinco or whatever his name was last season did when he got into it with offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and was suspended for a game against the Steelers in November.
"I guess we're built a little different here," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said this week before heading home to Virginia for the team's off weekend. "Everybody realizes we have a good thing going here, and no one wants to ruin it. We don't want to betray the people who treat us so well and treat us like grown men."
There's no question it starts with strong ownership. The Rooneys are rock-solid, as good as anyone in sports. "The way they run this organization makes guys want to stay here," cornerback Deshea Townsend said.
It's also about a strong head coach. Mike Tomlin, just like Bill Cowher before him, clearly is the boss, and everyone on the team knows it. The Rooneys' unwavering support -- in Cowher's case, even during three consecutive non-playoff seasons -- is a big part of that.
But it's also about the players. The Steelers have had exceptionally strong leaders going back to the Joe Greene days. More recently, there was Jerome Bettis, as good as there has been in football. Now, it's Farrior. The Steelers are his team more than anyone's.
"I consider it to be a part of my job," Farrior said. "I'm one of the older guys on the team and I've been around a long time. I think the guys respect me enough that they'll listen when I say something. I know what distractions can tear a locker room apart. I'm willing to say something to keep little things from becoming big things."
It's not just Farrior. It's Aaron Smith, Hines Ward and -- more and more -- Ben Roethlisberger. "Coach Tomlin always tells us he'll take care of things if we don't take care of them first. That's why we always try to take care of 'em," said Townsend, another strong presence in the locker room.
Something Smith said last season after Johnson/Ochocinco was suspended for the game here is instructive. Asked what would happen if a player would disrespect Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau in a meeting, he said, "For one thing, that would never happen with coach LeBeau. And, if by some chance it ever did, the guy wouldn't make it out of the room in one piece. The rest of us would take care of him."
Added Farrior, "The guys in the locker room take care of the locker room."
That's a big reason the Steelers have won two of the past four Super Bowls and a record six in all. It's also a big reason they aren't the Chiefs or the Bengals or the Browns.
Thank goodness for that.
First Published October 30, 2009 12:00 am